Agents link GOP treasurer to calls

Correction, December 17, 2008: "Due to a reporter's error, a story that ran in Wednesday's paper was incorrect when it stated that Virginia Allen had worked for U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. Ms. Allen worked for U.S. Senator Jim DeMint. (Highlight changes)

AIKEN --- State agents have arrested the treasurer of the local Republican Party on charges that she fraudulently organized several automated phone calls to Aiken County residents endorsing two local state candidates this past summer.

Virginia Austin Allen, 47, of the 100 block of Driftwood Circle in Aiken, is charged with six counts of making unsolicited consumer phone calls. She was arrested Monday.

On June 9, a day before the South Carolina primary election, several residents received an automated call, which their caller ID showed as originating from REI Inc. -- a company owned and operated by state Sen. Greg Ryberg.

The unidentified voice in the automated call endorsed Mr. Ryberg and Aiken County Councilman Scott Singer, who was running for the state House District 81 seat held by Rep. Skipper Perry, who did not seek re-election.

The automated call claimed Mr. Singer would be a better legislative partner with Mr. Ryberg in Columbia than Mr. Perry had been.

Mr. Ryberg won his re-election bid against Jason Whinghter of North Augusta, but Mr. Singer lost his bid for the house in a runoff race against Tom Young.

Mr. Singer reiterated Tuesday that he did not have anything to do with the incident, and that the calls linking Mr. Ryberg and himself didn't help either campaign.

"I'm confident law enforcement will bring any and all perpetrators to justice," he said.

SLED spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said in a statement that "Allen is accused of paying more than $300 by credit card to an out-of-state vendor to make such calls."

According to the arrest warrants, Ms. Allen paid for automatically dialed answering device calls, or robo-calls, of a political nature to county residents without disclosing the identity of the originating party.

Authorities have accused Ms. Allen of manipulating the caller ID to reflect the phone number of Mr. Ryberg's business without consent from the company. Ms. Allen is no stranger to politics, working previously as a field representative for U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.

The day after the calls were made, Mr. Ryberg released a statement condemning the calls, calling them a "gutter operation" and "last-minute desperation tactics by a failed campaign and its immoral operators."

"I did not pay for, place or otherwise authorize the phone call, and I condemn the person or persons who did," Mr. Ryberg said, adding that he was proud to have served with Mr. Perry, whom he "considered a fine colleague and friend."

Dennis Saylor, chairman of the county GOP, said he was saddened about the arrest but "fortunately we live in a society where we are innocent until proven guilty."

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.